Madame Le Cren

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Footsteps, yarns and little fibs
Reared in the South Island high country, a young woman is sent to France.

Submitted: April 26, 2017

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Submitted: April 26, 2017



Mary Le Breton’s father was the manager of a Canterbury high country sheeprun and because of the isolation and harshness of life there, she became adept at survival and self-reliance. She was an only child, taught that her ancestry could be traced back to Jersey and a stonemason. Her great grandfather had come out to New Zealand, fibbing that he was as an agriculture worker but soon after arriving he set up a drapery store, which was his chosen craft.

Before she began correspondence school studies at six, Mary accompanied her father on the mountainous foothills, where he taught her survival skills in the wilderness and about animal behaviour, both domestic and wild. He was a patient, kind teacher. She has the ability to whistle, which made learning how to work sheepdogs much easier. As soon as she could lift a lamb, she held them for her father to mark. He removed their tails, if they were ram lambs, he castrated them and finally nicked a piece out of the ear, which was an identification mark specific to the run. She could ride a pony before she was four years old. She regularly kindled a fire and boiled the billy for tea by the time she was six.

By the time she was fourteen, the farm hands and shearers were ogling her, tongues lolling like her faithful Alsatian, Fred’s did when he was happy to see her. Some of them tried to herd her on her own like stags do, but Mary would have none of that, nor would Fred! From an early age she had seen the rams at work, she recorded which cow the bull had served and she was still keen ‘help the Clydesdale stallion in’ like her father had done, but she had no interest in being served by randy young itinerants!

Mary was a good shot, her father had taught her to shoot every rabbit she clapped eyes on using the ancient but accurate .22 single shot and at sixteen she would scout the southerly slopes with a .303 slung over her shoulder hunting red deer. The mother used to hang the venison for a week before roasting it and garnishing it with apple or apricots from the orchard. Mary’s talent for stalking could make herself invisible to the deer.

Three days before her eighteenth birthday, Mary sailed for France. Her grandmother needed company. Mary’s uncle had been looking after her but he had left to join a hush-hush underground movement, formed in response to the German sabre-rattling. Sure, there were other family members who could care for Mamie, rather that call on a girl from New Zealand, but Mary’s father thought it was time for the young woman to spread her wings away from the high country.

Mamie lived to the south of Paris in a rural area and Mary soon picked up the language as the young do. She found an old pump-action .22 that had been in Mamie’s house for as long as she could remember. It wasn’t as accurate as the old single shot still, she managed to supplement their diet with pigeons and rabbits. As time went on she felt somewhat threated when Germany invaded Poland, and although the French didn’t seem overly concerned, Mary decided to stock up on ammunition, hiding caches in many places.

June 1940, four years after Mary arrived in France, German soldiers marched into Paris and it wasn’t long until Mary and Mamie heard stories of atrocities handed out by the Germans! Caring for Mamie wasn’t very taxing for a capable young woman like Mary which gave her ample spare time to reconnoitre the surrounding countryside so she reckoned she could cope with the German invasion, which anyway, wasn’t expected to last very long.

The stories filtering to Mary gave her an itch that needed scratching. Locals were forming an underground network that she wasn’t totally privy to, nor did she want to be, but she did want to witness for herself what was going on in Paris. She decided that she could cycle there in two days, stopping on the way at Cecile’s house. Cecile was an old school friend of Mamie’s. It was there Mary saw her first German soldiers, they had taken the large grand house over as a local command post. Warily, she parked he bicycle some distance away and stealthily found her way to the house. Four soldiers were removing the bodies of two civilians, one Mary recognised as Cecile and the other, she presumed was a servant. She regretted not bringing the .22 with her.

Mary could see that other people were hurriedly passing by, some on foot others on bicycles, so she guessed that she would be safe enough to cycle past. The Germans were too busy to notice her, but she guessed that state of affairs would not last for long. Later she found an abandoned shed to hide in for the night and bandicooted a vegetable garden and an egg from a chicken coop to fend off hunger pangs. Sleep didn’t come easily, she was still angry about the murder of Cecile and she mulled over the idea of abandoning her foray into Paris. But curiosity and determination got the better of her.

Mary abandoned her bicycle and melted into the alleyways of Paris. The Germans were noisy and there were grey uniforms everywhere. Red flags and banners with black swastikas were fluttering in the breeze. The only civilians she saw were a group of men being frog-marched towards a large building. It was a spectacle, but unpleasant for her. She had seen enough and turned to make her was out of the city. An approaching column of grey soldiers blocked her path, so she ducked down a different alley where she was horrified to come upon a dozen or so civilian corpses scattered randomly across the cobblestones. Gingerly she began to step through them. All had been shot in the head. She noticed the pale skin of a naked girl and after she passed, she heard a muffled groan!

The girl was barely fourteen, she was battered and bruised and there was dark blood between her legs. Mary wrapped her flimsy coat around the girl and tried to get her to stand up, but the poor child didn’t have the strength. Mary propped the girl against a wall, and doubled back to where she heard a horse whinney. There were four horses stabled there with a shingle guard, who was slumped on a stool dozing in the afternoon sun. She slipped silently into the stall. She chose a quiet dun mare, took a bridle from a peg on the wall and quietly bridled the horse. After slipping the door-bolt, she coaxed the other horses out. As they whinnied and trotted off, the alarmed guard ran after them, shouting, which made them bolt. In the confusion, Mary rode the mare to where she had left the girl.

Wiry and strong as Mary was, she still found lifting the girl awkward. Once mounted, the pair rode a roundabout trip home avoiding patrols, not even trusting civilians who could dob her in for food or other advantage. At home Mamie tried soothing the girl, tending her as grandmothers might. The girl told part of her harrowing experience, she had been raped and abused by a bespectacled officer who wore a black uniform. Mary had seen some of those uniforms going into the big building where the civilian men were being frog-marched.

The danger of keeping the mare and the military bridle was not lost on Mary, she had released the mare the day they arrived back and burnt the bridle. After hearing the girl, Pruette’s story Mary, felt the resentment and indeed hatred well up within her making her determined to do what she could to avenge the girl and girls like her. She needed transport and conceived a plan. There were often couriers on motorcycles with sidecars using a nearby tarred road. She was going to get a motorbike, a helmet, goggles and a greatcoat! To do this she chose a spot a long way from the house, so as not to arouse suspicion. Close to the tarred road, was a house that had caught fire some years ago and had been long abandoned. However, she need the motorbike to stop or at least slow down, reasoning that the rider needed to become curious rather than suspicious.

There was a slight bend in the road where a rail fence extended to the very verge of the road. Mary removed her underwear and hung them on the fence as if displaying them and then secreted herself in the abandoned house, .22 at the ready. At least an hour passed but when she heard the approaching motorbike she readied herself. She was cool and resolute, Pruette’s broken body prominent in her mind. The passenger in the sidecar was the first to spot the underwear and pointed. The bike slithered to a stop. Mary’s aim at the rider’s temple was a little off, because bullet went in his ear, but the result was the same, he dropped like a stone! Mary pumped another round in the chamber, ready, but the passenger was bent over the dead man, his helmet protecting him. Mary waited. The sidecar rider stood rigid, eyes wide with fear. The bullet was off again, just creasing his temple, but knocking him down. Cursing that the rifle needed adjusting, Mary ran to the soldier who was unconscious and finished him. The motor on the bike was still running.

Mary put the overcoats, helmets and boots into the sidecar and pulled the bodies into the house, covering them with some charred planks. She collected her underwear, scuffed over the drag marks and rode the motorbike to a copse of birches she had already staked out as the place to hide the vehicle. By bending the fore-sight on her rifle, and after a few shots, she was more satisfied with its accuracy. Later at home she spoke softly to Pruette to get a better description of the pervert-rapist. Besides a black uniform, he wore metal-rimmed glasses and his mouth was on a skew, perhaps caused be a scar on his left cheek.

The motorbike was too difficult for Mary to kick-start so until she could find someone to lengthen the lever, she decided to travel into Paris on foot. She judged that it would be safer. The trip took five days, a day longer than planned because she had to avoid more patrols and on three occasions, sporadic gunfire. She had bread and cheese in a pack with her as a reserve, but her mainstay was stolen food and once a pigeon she shot and cooked over a fire. She assumed correctly there was enough gunfire and smoke around to disguise her activities.

The building opposite the one that turned out to be the Gestapo headquarters was occupied, so Mary was unable to secure a vantage point there although that had been her plan, but the building two down seemed to be abandoned. She climbed to the second floor. Within an hour, she saw what she thought was the man Pruette had described. He walked boldly out of the building and into an open-topped car. No chance of a shot.

Before darkness set in, Mary checked the building to be sure there was nobody hiding or any other dangers. It was clear. She found a back door, which she would use for her escape route, it was locked but easily kicked open. She eased it back into place and returned up the stairs and settled down for the night after pulling down some curtains to wrap around herself. The building was an abandoned office, but with few working amenities, which meant she had to use another room as a toilet.

Despite the curfew the night was noisy with the clanking and banging of German occupation, but she shut it out and slept for about four hours. In the early hours she exercised and walked around the room so wouldn’t be stiff and would be alert when the man returned to his office in the morning. He was out of the car and into the building in a flash! No chance of a shot. Ten minutes later, he was back out when a black uniformed man stopped him. While he was being spoken to, he lit a cigarette. The bullet struck him on the neck, severing his spinal cord.

Mary made her escape through the rear door! She had a couple of hours lead, because the Germans thought the shot came from the building directly opposite and lost time interrogating the people there! They eventually found Mary’s bed. She had given no thought that she had left markers that identified the shooter as female. But still they got it wrong. A note dropped on the floor by someone before the occupation had a name on it: Madame Le Cren. They determined the shooter was one Madam Le Cren!


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